Updated: Jan 17
It seems like, every year, the England National Team is spoiled with domestic talent from the Premier League and other top five European leagues, but can never seem to find success in competitions like the Nations League, Euros, and the World Cup. Most notably, England managed to make it to the semi-finals of the World Cup 2018 in Russia. They conceded a lead to Croatia and lost 2-1. Under Gareth Southgate, England was becoming a more potent team, up until recently. After poor performances in the Nations League, including an unconvincing 1-0 win against Iceland, failing to beat Denmark across two fixtures, and being outclassed against Belgium in November, the England fanbase has turned their criticism towards Southgate and his team selection.
The most popular complaint about Southgate is his apparent “teacher’s pet” attitude towards Mason Mount of Chelsea F.C. Fans across social media take to their accounts to slander Mount on his, in their opinion, undeserving appearances over the likes of Jack Grealish of Aston Villa F.C., Phil Foden of Manchester City F.C., and James Maddison of Leicester City F.C. On paper, the hate that Mount has gotten is not backed up. In the Nations League games this calendar year, Mount has gotten two goals; one against Belgium in a 2-1 win and another against Iceland in a 4-0 win. Due to the constant questioning of Southgate’s team selection, he has been almost forced to find a way to include Mount, Grealish, Foden, Sterling, Sancho, and Kane into one starting 11. Southgate has done a decent job at this as when he does start Grealish and Mount together (instead of choosing one or the other), England looks more dangerous, not to mention the two attacking midfielders are both good mates off the pitch.
Another problem, a good one at that, is the excessive depth in the full-back positions, specifically right back. With the likes of Reece James of Chelsea F.C., Trent Alexander-Arnold of Liverpool F.C., Tariq Lamptey of Brighton F.C., Kyle Walker-Peters of Southampton F.C., Kyle Walker of Manchester City F.C., Aaron Wan-Bissaka of Manchester United F.C., and a handful of others, Southgate could play a whole starting 11 of top-class right-backs. The problem lies with the fact that you cannot actually be successful with running a side of 11 right-backs at one time, although Southgate might try. Southgate has either run a three-back system with two wing-backs or a four back with two conventional full-backs. Kyle Walker, a preferred right-back, slots in at right center-back when he chooses a three-back system, and he rotates the excess right-backs in the right wing-back position. This formation has proven more successful for Southgate as it means there are two more wide players that join the attack and provide delivery for the clinical Harry Kane. When basing team selection off of form this season, Southgate would have to look at the likes of Reece James and Tariq Lamptey, who have burst onto the scene as two of the best right-backs in Europe. When experience is needed, Kieran Trippier of Atlético Madrid has also been in rotation.
It is valid to criticize Gareth Southgate for his tactics, formations, etc., but not with his team selection at this point in time. He is dealing with a considerable squad selection of one of the best footballing countries' best talent. It should be expected that Southgate should continue to tinker with different combinations of attacking players and defensive players until there is a consistent product of success between the two, and then fans can start to question what is not working correctly. This is not to say that his tactics have not been off in multiple games this year, costing them points, but it is to point out that the team selection should not be as big of a factor in those poor performances because of how much top tier talent there is in this England National Team.